Aniko Kalovics from Hungary running in snow at the 2009 Campaccio XC race (Lorenzo Sampaolo) © Copyright

Shaheen and Lebid, Twell and Kalovics to square off in San Vittore Olona - Cinque Mulini XC preview

Saif Saeed Shaheen from Qatar, twice World champion and World record holder in the 3000m Steeplechase and eight-time European Cross Country champion Sergiy Lebid from the Ukraine will highlight the 77th edition of the glorious cross country race Cinque Mulini in San Vittore Olona near Milan on Sunday (1). In the women’s race young british shooting star Stephanie Twell, three-time European junior Cross Country champion, will take on 2006 Cinque Mulini winner Aniko Kalovics from Hungary.

The Cinque Mulini race is the sixth of the 10 race IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting of the 2008/2009 series ahead the 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships be held in Amman, Jordan, on 28 March.

Shaheen is on the comeback trail after being sidelined by two years of injury problems which followed his two world titles in Paris 2003 and Helsinki 2005 and his World record (7:53.63 set in Brussels in 2004). Shaheen will be looking to win the Cinque Mulini for the second time in his career. The Qatari star won the 2005 edition when he beat Boniface Kiprop after falling before the bell.

Lebid will be looking for a third win in the Cinque Mulini after victories in 2003 and 2007. He knows this race very well as he also finished second in 2001 and 2004 and third in 1999 and 2000. After his eighth European cross country crown in Brussels last December Lebid finished second in the Boclassic in Bolzano and in the snowy Campaccio Cross Country race in San Giorgio su Legnano before below-par competitions in Edinburgh (where he finished 10th) and Seville (14th) against very strong African rivals. In his last race Lebid made up somewhat for his result in Seville with a fourth place in San Sebastian last Sunday.

The line-up is completed by some top European runners like 2008 European under 23 Cross Country silver medallist Andy Vernon from Great Britain, Dutchman Michael Butter and Italian distance running hope Daniele Meucci (European under 23 bronze medallist in the 10,000 metres in 2007).

Olympic 3000m Steeplechase silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad of France was initially on the slate, but was forced to withdraw with an Achilles injury.

Twell vs Kalovics – women’s race

Great Britain’s 19-year-old middle-distance running star Stephanie Twell capped her successful junior career in Brussels by scoring an unprecedented European under 20 Cross Country hat-trick. In the Belgian capital Twell led the young British team to a unique team sweep as six British runners claimed the top six positions.

At the beginning of 2009 the Briton began her senior career on a high note with an impressive win in the IAAF Cross Country Permit Meeting in Antrim on 3 January followed one week later by a convincing fourth place in another IAAF permit race in Edinburgh where she faced a very tough African opposition. Twell has a good memory of Italy as she won her first European junior Cross Country title in the neighbouring town of San Giorgio su Legnano in 2006.

The British teenager won the World junior title in the 1500m last summer in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and one week later ran her PB of 4:05.83 in the ÅF Golden League meeting in Paris, a time which qualified her for the Olympic Games in Bejing where she narrowly missed the 1500m final after running 4:06.68 in the semifinals.

In the long history of the Italian race across the mills, Rita Ridley was the only British runner able to win the Cinque Mulini, taking the crown in the inaugural women’s race in 1972 beating Italian Paola Pigni. Ridley scored a second victory two years later. No British female runner has managed to win the classic Italian race since. Twell, who is considered by many pundits as the heir of Paula Radcliffe, will be looking to end the long drought in San Vittore Olona. 

Twell, who is considered as one of the best British hopes for the 2012 Olympic Games on home-soil in London, will square off against front-runner Aniko Kalovics in San Vittore Olona. The Hungarian Cross Country and road running star showed very good form recently with two major wins in San Giorgio su Legnano on 6 January and San Sebastian last weekend and finished sixth in the IAAF Permit meeting in Seville. Kalovics boasts good past results in San Vittore Olona, as she finished first in 2006, second in 2005 and third in 2004 and 2007.

Italian hopes will be carried by Renate Rungger and Italian 3000m Steeplechase specialist Agnes Tschurtschenthaler.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF